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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Boston Will Lose Big If It Wins the Olympics

Just say no, Boston.

A hostile force is trying to take over Boston, and people who agree on little else have united to keep it out. The force is the US Olympic Committee, which wants to occupy the city in 2024.

The Olympics is the unquestioned world leader in sports cronyism. Compliant politicians help it shove people aside, allocate public roads to itself, stifle free speech, and militarize cities.

For the 2012 London Olympics, 17,000 military personnel stood on alert, missile launchers sat on the rooftops of residential buildings, and the Royal Navy’s largest battleship was moored in the Thames. Snipers buzzed around in helicopters. The government enforced censorship of advertising in Olympic “event zones”: ads that used words like “games” or “2012” were subject to heavy fines.

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi showed how well the Games suit an authoritarian state. They cost Russians $51 billion, much of which went to Vladimir Putin’s friends. Human rights violations piled up. The aftermath has been a city full of white elephants and a series of financial scandals.

When the US Olympic Committee chose Boston as its candidate city for 2024, certain people were thrilled. The bid offers huge opportunities for those who get the contracts; someone will build an 80,000-seat stadium, a 100-acre Olympic Village, and other major structures.

A lot of Bostonians weren’t impressed, though. They saw what the Olympics had done in other cities, with a consistent pattern of making taxpayers cover cost overruns. A group called No Boston Olympics led a grassroots campaign, making heavy use of social media. Other groups, mostly informal, have popped up to add to the opposition.

WGBH News says, “It’s hard to remember another issue in state politics that’s brought left and right together like Boston’s Olympic bid.” The plan offers something for everyone — except those on the cash pipeline — to hate. For many, it’s the expected costs and the organizers’ uncommunicative arrogance. When the town of Brookline voted to keep the Olympics out of its part of Boston’s urban area, these were the big reasons.  

A lot of Bostonians are outraged that the Games would take away favorite local spots. The proposal to turn Boston Common into a garish beach volleyball stadium struck a special nerve. The adjacent Public Garden holds the much-loved “Make Way for Ducklings” statues, but people would have to make way for the Olympic cronies instead, as the statues would be placed off-limits. The bid organizers eventually backed down on using the Common.

Plans to attack civil liberties have contributed to the outrage. A public records request revealed that Mayor Walsh had signed an agreement to prohibit city employees from making comments that “reflect unfavorably upon, denigrate or disparage, or are detrimental to the reputation” of the Games.

On getting caught, Walsh claimed that the language was mere “boilerplate,” though he had in fact signed it, and he was forced to remove it from the agreement.

Walsh’s deal wasn’t the only case of hiding facts. Boston magazine had to file another public records request to get the full bid documents. They included high cost figures that the USOC had removed from the public version and contained information contradicting previous claims that taxpayer money would be used only for security.

The Olympic organizers and their supporters have tried to mock the opposition. Shirley Leung, writing for the Boston Globe, claimed that Bostonians are “difficult people” who “will throw tantrums like 2-year-olds.” Her explanation of the overwhelming public opposition was “PTSD after suffering through more than 100 inches of snow this winter.” The ridicule has only increased the critics’ determination. In polls, opponents of letting the Olympics use Boston have consistently outnumbered supporters.

If Bostonians are “difficult,” maybe it’s because they remember how the city came to a grinding halt for the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The city’s main traffic artery from the north was shut down, along with all trains to North Station. The police attempted to confine protesters to a caged “free speech zone.” Commuters stayed home, and much of the city seemed like a ghost town.

If Boston hosts the Olympics, 55 miles of road lanes, including major highways and local streets, will be handed over to its exclusive use. The Democratic Convention was a mere practice run by comparison.

The organizers are now making vague claims that they’ll obtain insurance which will guarantee that taxpayers won’t get stuck. They haven’t explained how any insurance company can or will insure against overspending. The idea of insurance assumes that the covered party will act responsibly but may encounter unforeseen costs; insurance against acting irresponsibly would be a blank check.

Boston College law professor Patricia A. McCoy said that “almost every Olympics in the recent past has had major cost overruns. Any suggestion that private insurance will pick that up is smoke and mirrors.”

Dave Zirin wrote in The Nation:

I have covered every Summer Olympics since 2004 in Athens, Greece. In other words, every Olympics since 9/11, when security concerns morphed into turning Olympic sites into police states.

At each site I’ve seen debt, displacement and the militarization of space, alongside spikes in police harassment of the most vulnerable citizens.

Boston’s rejection of the Olympic bullies will be a firm lesson that they can’t just walk in and take over.

  • Gary McGath is a freelance software engineer living in Nashua, New Hampshire.